Composer Francis Fortier founded the Bar Harbor Music Festival 55 years ago as a young graduate of the Julliard School of Music. He will be conducting shows for the festival on July 23 and 25.  PHOTO COURTESY OF BAR HARBOR MUSIC FESTIVAL

Live music is back with the Bar Harbor Music Festival

BAR HARBOR — When Francis Fortier and the Bar Harbor Music Festival grace the Criterion Theatre’s stage this summer for the festival’s 55th season, Fortier will be returning to a place that is near and dear to his heart.

“Every time I go on stage at the Criterion, I think of my father,” said Fortier in a conversation with the Islander in May.

Shortly after the Criterion Theatre opened in 1933, Fortier’s father performed on its stage with vaudeville legend Al Jolson. Years later, as Fortier was creating the Bar Harbor Music Festival and looking to perform on the theater’s stage, his father told him he had picked a good place.

“I founded this when I was a kid at Julliard,” said Fortier. “I had no idea what I was getting into, (now) it’s in the 55th season.”

As with most performing arts, the festival was greatly affected by COVID-19 for its 2020 season. Performances this season will go from June 27 to July 25 and will take place at the Great Room at the Bluenose Inn and the Criterion Theatre.

“We took a major hit in our industry,” said Fortier. “We lost two famous fundraisers last year.”

Without the ability to perform live, the festival adjusted, like many others, and offered virtual performances whenever possible. Earlier this spring, as vaccination rates rose and gathering restrictions loosened, live music returned for one of the festival’s major spring fundraisers.

“The spring benefit was a great success, even with seating restrictions,” said Fortier. “We sensed that people had had it. They were fed up with music online.”

Pianist Cara Chowning will be part of the festival’s Opening Day Tea Concert in The Great Room at the Bluenose Inn on June 27.

Live music with the Bar Harbor Music Festival will continue throughout this season with venue capacity that follows state guidelines. On Sunday, June 27, at 4 p.m., the Bar Harbor Music Festival will kick off at the Great Room of the Bluenose Inn for an Opening Day Tea Concert. Soprano Kelci Kosin will be collaborating with pianist Clara Chowning in a program of “Songs of Rejuvenation and Rebirth,” an appropriate theme for coming back from a pandemic. Music by Emily Sullivan and Francis Poulenc, Robert Schumann and H.J. Burleigh will also be included.

Then, Wednesday, June 30, at 8 p.m., the Garden State Philharmonic Brass Quintet will make its festival debut in the Criterion Theatre. It will be the first of 10 performances with the Bar Harbor Music Festival that will take place in the theater for the season.

“We, me and the board of directors, were all incredibly thrilled to host the music festival this season,” said Taylor Valarik, executive director of the Criterion Theatre. “I think it’s a perfect setting for the music festival.”

Fortier is just as excited to have the festival at the theater.

“The ticket response has really been encouraging,” he said. “The acoustics of the theater are amazing. It’s the perfect house for music. The most expensive tickets are going like hot cakes.”

For the last month, the Criterion has been open and showing mainstream movies. Seating is offered at every other row, but gathering restrictions are changing by the day. Valarik is hopeful that as the season goes on, more people will be able to come inside.

“It’s been awesome to have the theater back open,” he said. “I’m really hopeful that by the time the music festival starts, we’ll be able to host a full audience.”

Whether a full house or half capacity, audiences are in for a treat with the lineup of performances.

“There’s no backing off,” said Fortier. “The exciting new dimension is a strong affiliation with the Criterion Theater. What we’re taking on, there’s no reduction, no compromise.”

For tickets and information, visit or contact Bar Harbor Music Festival, The Rodick Building, 59 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, (207) 288-5744, [email protected]

Tickets are available online at

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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